After winning their last two games by scoring 75-plus points each, the Bradley men’s basketball team outlasted the Missouri Valley Conference first-place Loyola Ramblers in a low scoring 61-54 win.
“It was a fun college basketball game to be a part of,” Bradley head coach Brian Wardle said. “It was a hard-fought, physical game. I was proud of our guys … Overall, winning a grind-it-out game after some high scoring games was good for our guys, good for our psyche.”
Loyola won the last time the two teams faced each other in the second round of the MVC Arch Madness tournament last March. They went on to win the conference and were awarded an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Braves junior Darrell Brown finished the game with 21 points, scoring 16 in the second half. His Loyola counterpart, senior guard Marques Townes, scored 15 points but missed all four of his 3-point attempts.
Brown said his motivation for this game differentiated from other games this season.
“They put us out of the tournament last year, so I had a chip on my shoulder from that,” Brown said.
In the first half, Loyola forced seven steals and nine Bradley turnovers. The Ramblers largest lead in the first half was eight. Though, when both teams went into the locker at halftime, the Braves only trailed by four, 26-22.
After coming out of half time with an quicker pace, Bradley did not take the lead until 14:35 remained in the game. Two Brown free throws pushed Bradley up 35-33. Both teams struggled to score in the next five minutes until the refs called a flagrant foul on Loyola during an inbound-play.
Bradley senior Dwanye Lautier-Ogunleye hit one of the two free throws allocated for the flagrant foul to put the Braves up 41-39. After a marginal Loyola turnover, senior Luuk van Bree coasted to the other side of the floor to lay in two more.
Loyola’s Townes responded with a jumper of his own, but on the next play, with the shot clock winding down, Brown hit a long 3-pointer at the buzzer to put the Braves up five with 7:44 to go. He reflected on the significant moment after the game and what was going through his head.
“As a starting point guard of a DI program, you can’t be rattled,” Brown said. “You can’t be the one rattled on the team if anybody is. You accept the moments and you accept the challenges and usually, I thrive in those situations.”
The play shifted the momentum for the Braves. They held on to the lead for the rest of the game, expanding it to 11 points after a van Bree jumper. Loyola struggled to retain the ball in the final minutes, ensuring a Braves win.
Turnovers were another point both Wardle and Loyola’s coach Porter Moser stressed. Bradley and Loyola lost the ball 14 and 13 times, respectively, throughout the game.
“We did a good job in the second half, taking care of the ball until the end, but in the first half it was overdribbling and jump passes,” Wardle said.
Bradley now sits fifth in the MVC, tied with three other teams with a record of 6-7. They face the fourth best team in the MVC, Illinois State (7-6) tomorrow.
It will be the second installment of this season’s I-74 Rivarly. In their last matchup on Jan. 23, Bradley dominated ISU in an 85-68 win. Wardle said team confidence and consistency would propel the Braves to winning.
“You’re never as good as you think,” Wardle said. “The chip on the shoulder, the hunger has to stay there … Tomorrow, we’re gonna practice like we lost.”
Tipoff is 7 p.m. at Redbird Arena.